Sunday, 15 November 2009

Eyes on the Prize - the Montgomery Bus Boycott.

In the late seventies or early eighties an epic series came on the TV which captivated my interest for weeks. I was a teenager growing up in London, my historical knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement to that date was via the biographies of Nat King Cole and Billie Holiday. After these I read the biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr written by his widow Coretta Scott King. And then came 'Roots'. But I am not referring to that series. I am talking about a history of the Civil Rights Movement in a form I'd never seen before. 'Eyes on the Prize' was an education then and a few years later when it was repeated and I watched some episodes with my children.

Well I recently found this series on YouTube, available in 10 minute chunks making it suitable as a possible teaching resource for a History class. We are approaching the anniversary of the what is generally seen as the first action of the Civil Rights Movement in the US - the Montgomery Bus Boycott started on December 1st, 1955. It is an education for anyone to recognise and understand what it took to fight for what we often take for granted today. I wonder what children nowadays would think if they had to confront the issues faced by the Montgomery Bus Boycotters. You don't have to be American or even black to appreciate the determination and strength. It is an historical event worth teaching.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Making Moodle Courses More Like Web Pages

I've been working with Moodle for just over a year and have learned to use it via online videos and presentations. I can create web pages in Moodle and have learnt how to embed videos and recently a PowerPoint presentation with animations into a course page. However anyone who is familiar with Moodle course pages is well aware how quickly you find you've created a page which requires seemingly endless scrolling to find information and resources. One of the first pages I was involved in suffered from this issue. It was resolved by hiding some areas and creating links to hidden resources. Still required some scrolling so I knew it could be improved further but not how.

Once in a while I'll do a random search looking for anything new on a given topic. I use this most often when I am at work to find out what other people are saying about some of the resources we use in education especially when it comes to our open source VLE. The abundant sharing of knowledge and skills supports beginner, intermediate and advanced learning. I rely heavily on the sharing of highly skilled people who have been using Moodle a lot longer than me and I share my discoveries with colleagues as well as record it here.

A couple of weeks ago I was looking for a challenge so I did a Google video search on Moodle. One of the top five results was a video from channel UsingMoodle on YouTube called Make your Moodle course page look like a webpage. Avoiding the 'scroll of death' was a topic that I was trying to tackle over a year ago and therefore was exactly the challenge I was looking for. Naturally I watched it right away.

I watched it a few times over before attempting to follow the instructions to change one of the course pages for which I am responsible. I would recommend watching the video and pausing at each step while working on your course page. The hardest thing in the whole process which is not obvious in this video is finding images to use for buttons. Moodle is a bit fiddly when it comes to images. You can't just copy a bit of clipart. I would like to be able to just copy and paste and then add a hyperlink like I would in Word. Moodle however insists on you uploading files into a storage area which I find a little irritating. However as this video demonstrates it is possible to avoid the 'scroll of death'. Anything that makes Moodle more presentable is a good thing.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Screenr - Screencasts an eLearning tool

Books are great and training sessions are even better but when you have a limited time to learn and upgrade your own skills I for one am glad for the wealth of information available online. It is part of my job to make sure my skills are up to scratch with the software being used by students. Recently we were upgraded to Office 2007. We are all teaching ourselves and each other while dealing with the start of the new term. I tried to use some books but they give you tasks that may be great in a classroom but have no motivation for me when I am self-teaching.

Until last month I’d never heard of the term ‘screencast’. I stumbled across a site that allows you to record and share screencasts with your Twitter followers. I was searching for PowerPoint 2007 videos and found screencasts. What's a screencast? To answer that question I decided to look up a definition or two.

The first definition is from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A screencast is a digital recording of computer screen output, also known as a video screen capture, often containing audio narration. Although the term screencast dates from 2004, products such as Lotus ScreenCam were used as early as 1994.[1][2] Early products produced large files and had limited editing features. More recent products support more compact file formats such as Adobe Flash and have more sophisticated editing features allowing changes in sequence, mouse movement, and audio.

Just as a screenshot is a picture of a user's screen, a screencast is essentially a movie of the changes over time that a user sees on his monitor.

Another definition from explains it thus:

Screen recording software that turns screen output into a video to teach an application or to promote a product by demonstrating features. Users can also make videos of screen sequences to log results for troubleshooting. Screencast programs may allow narration during capture, and advanced versions allow editing and annotation after the capture.

The site I discovered is called Screenr. There I found a number of very useful screencasts to help people like me who like visual explanations and demonstrations. One of the screencasters appears under the name elearning. He can also be found on Twitter as @elearning.

I used two of his screencasts to learn about some advanced skills and while doing so observed how to access the various tools and features of PowerPoint 2007.

The first one shows how to use gradient fills to “create interesting and dramatic lighting effects.”

The second one shows how to create "Interactive, animated scenarios using motion paths in PowerPoint 2007".

Want to see more? Visit Screenr

I think the effects demonstrated really make a difference to your slideshow. I created an instructive presentation using motion path animation and the gradient fills to great effect. As it is specifically designed for our students it is not suitable to share in this post but it is already being implemented on the VLE. With the help of elearning's screencasts and my transferable skills, I consider myself upgraded in PowerPoint 2007. I hope you find these screencasts useful. Now to tackle Excel....

Sunday, 20 September 2009

eLearning Sucks

Check out this SlideShare Presentation: I found this via David Hopkin's blog Don't Waste Your Time. It is a thought provoking presentation so I am posting this for future reference.

Thursday, 10 September 2009

Learning to Use Office 2007

In my experience as a Learning Resource Assistant (IT) the autumn term is traditionally a time for initial assessments. People wishing to embark on a new course, develop skills and hopefully change their lives in some way have to sit an online assessment program for English and Mathematics. For many this is quite daunting especially if they are not very familiar with using computers or have learning support needs. It is our role to support all levels of ability and we take our role very seriously. However we have our own learning issues to face.
We returned to work after our summer break to discover that Office 2003 is now upgraded to Office 2007. There is no time to wait for professional development so we are busy trying to find time to train ourselves in between assessment duty.

Students are starting classes soon and will require support in using the intranet and VLE with technical support and how to questions for applications. We are faced with the task of learning to use Office 2007 to a good level of proficiency.
There are other issues which I will not go into here but just say that it presents us with a number of challenges that will affect the quality of our support. For this article I want to look at the methods we are using in our attempt to become proficient in Word 2007.

Microsoft Word is the obvious starting point for upgrading our knowledge of the Office suite. Once we can use Word we expect to be able to transfer that knowledge and apply it to the other applications used by students to carry out research and produce coursework. There are a number of methods we are using to achieve this.

We work in a learning resource centre so we are surrounded by tools for learning. But the first thing I did was just open the application and jumped in. Then one of us found a book called ‘Teach Yourself Word 2007’ on the shelves. It’s written by Moira Stephen and although designed for beginners it is very useful for users experienced in Word generally with clear progression from the basics to IT proficiency. You can find out more about the series from their website.

Books are good because you can carry them around and dip into the section you want. You can have the book to refer to as you work through and this book has some useful images but this is an elearning blog so let’s look at a few elearning options for Word 2007.

1. Online videos are great tools for learning and I found some on this website There are just a few videos of a few minutes duration and the site does have a comprehensive list of features in Word 2007 to explore and discover. It explains something that for me was initially the most confusing feature of Office 2007 – the ribbon. After years of menu bars and drop-down menus it is quite a change but with a few video demos and some demos from colleagues I recognised that in reality those dialogue boxes were still there.
Here is the video that introduced the Office 2007 Ribbon...

We also have some learning resources available on the VLE but I found these difficult to use as I have to switch from window to window to carry out tasks and exercises. I did not get any positive reactions to these resources from my colleagues.

2. The Microsoft Office site also offers some learning tools but I am unable to use them at work as the video player uses Silverlight. Installing anything is prohibited on the college network so I am not able to tell you about that.

3. The application itself offers help as we would expect. One colleague pointed out a really useful item called Reference: Locations of Word 2003 commands in Word 2007. This is neither training nor learning tool but it is a good reference tool which shows the equivalent of Word 2003 tools in Word 2007. It's just what we need.

This upgrade experience illustrates how we take different paths to learning. One of us uses video and practices the application by creating documents and exploring tools by doing. Another of us uses the Teach Yourself book and learns by reading and doing the bits that are relevant or interesting to them. We are all sharing what we’ve learned so far with each other, demonstrating and therefore reinforcing our own learning by sharing. It turns out that we have all learned different things so while I have focused on inserting tables, clipart and objects like text boxes, my colleagues have focused on formatting tabs, using the quick toolbar and headers and footers for example. This is a good thing as we will be able to complement each other as we provide support for learners. How long before we feel as confident with Office 2007 as we do with 2003 is another matter.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

Wonder How To Anything

One of my hobbies is making greeting cards. It is a hobby I've enjoyed for about 18 months as I discover, learn and apply new styles and techniques in paper craft. You can read all about in 'My Other Blog'.

One of these new styles (well new to me, you understand) is an exploding card. It is a card for special occasions like weddings or milestone birthdays which also doubles as a box in which you can place a gift. I am in the process of making my first one.

The internet is not my only source for learning about making handmade cards. There is a wide selection of magazines and books on the subject but my favourite method of learning is through watching good crafters demonstrating. There are TV shows on QVC and a specialist channel Create and Craft which is also live online. The internet is without doubt the major provider of a wealth of instructional videos and I used this one to learn how to make an exploding card.

The Wonder How To website describes itself appropiately as 'The How To Anything site'. It is a one stop site for instructional videos on topics from Arts and Crafts to Science. I would add a word of warning as I saw some thumbnails for videos which were on dissecting. Not for the faint hearted and certainly not for anyone other than medical students, pathologists or the fascinated! I watched the video above on Wonder How To and embedded it directly from YouTube.

Many but not all of the videos are gleaned from YouTube so you will find videos from New Zealand as well anywhere else in the world.

If you are using the Firefox web browser you can also download a sidebar which will offer a choice of videos relating to the subject within your current webpage. You have the option of closing the Wonder How To sidebar and it is simple to re-open from the task bar.

There are over 1600 videos under the subject Education with subcategories of Humanities, Legal Issues, Math, Science and Teaching. There are some useful videos like the one following and there are some dubious ones which I hope examiners are aware of as they reveal secrets that help people to cheat at exams! This one however gives some useful tips on preparing to take exams, something that many students, all over the world are currently engaged.

For personal development I think Wonder How To is a very useful resource and I shall be using it for my own hobby development. Not sure I would recommend this for institutional use though.

Monday, 18 May 2009

101 Free Learning Tools

This is a great presentation from Zaidlearn. A great list of learning tools.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Twitter in Education

Twitter is everywhere. Who can say they have not heard of Twitter as the profile of this social media micro-blogging site grows as more and more individuals including some celebrities, organisations and more seek to join in the 'Twitterverse'. But as David Hopkins says in the presentation, it is not about celebrities, it is about you. He offers good advice to educators who may be considering how they can harness the site for teaching and learning.

The best piece of advice is aimed at people who are new or are still thinking about joining; know your purpose for joining Twitter! It could also be applied to those of us who are accomplished Tweeters.

Included is a video from Comon Craft which I myself watched when I asked the question, 'What is Twitter?' 'Twitter in Plain English' was recently in the news as it formed part of a feature on CNN!

Saturday, 25 April 2009

A New Term and More Moodling...

I spoke last time about my reasons for joining the Moodle Meet community on Ning. Since then we've had the Easter Break and the summer term began with beautiful weather. Much as I wanted to sit outside and enjoy the sun it was back to the business of developing our elearning resource bank on the VLE.

One of my main purposes for joining Moodle Meet was to learn how to achieve goals that come from tinkering, using the tools available to create a user friendly learning area. The user experience is at the heart of creating resource banks. As I read somewhere this week, if the content and the look of the site is not appealing, no one will use it. One of the issues to which I pay most attention is the number of clicks or the amount of scrolling it takes to reach a goal. It is one of the golden rules of web design and I think it is appropiate to consider this even if it is just for your VLE.

There is a link on the Moodle Meet page called Moodle Tutorials. It could be called Moodle TV!! There are channels with videos to show you how to achieve your goals and in the process develop new skills and knowledge. This is great for any moodler of any level. You can join but it is not compulsory to have access to the videos. If you do join then you can rate videos and make comments rather like YouTube or Vimeo.

I had posted a video from CommonCraft to our eLearning Forum. Well I posted a link to the video to be exact. While this was fine it meant that it would take require four clicks from selecting the main resource to watching the video. I wondered if there was a way to embed a video as I was used to doing on my blogs and so on. It would cut out at least one click and be more inviting to the user to actually watch the video.

One of the channels on Moodle Tutorials is called Moodle 1.8 not that I am certain which version of Moodle being used in our institution but I know it is not the most recent version which I think is 2.0 - please correct me if I am mistaken. Back to the point, this channel had the video to teach me what I needed to learn. In it the speaker takes you through the steps to embed videos on your Moodle platform with clear directions and demonstration. Watch the video for yourself.

The CommonCraft video was the first resource to be added to our Information Literacy area. CommonCraft make video 'Explanations in Plain English'. It is called 'Web Search Strategies in Plain English' which will be useful for anyone teaching Information Literacy. Following the Moodle Tutorials video I created a web page with the CommonCraft video embedded in it. See that video below.

Moodle Tutorials
is a great site for people like me who are relatively new to Moodle. There are easy to use resources that the boss won't mind you watching when they see what you start producing in the goal of developing elearning resources and making it easy and pleasant to use for everyone.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

MoodleMeet - Why I joined this community...

It is almost a year since I began using Moodle the learning platform used in the further education college where I work. During this year gradually developing knowldege and skills gained from previous experience of another platform Digitalbrain it was not difficult to do the basics. However in a short time I was given more permissions and required to create two courses. I took advice from colleagues and websites like and Moodle Docs.

I have now created two courses and while I have had fun doing it, even creating a logo to improve our presentation, I want to know more. So looking for instruction I visit bloggers like Jane Hart and Moodle Girl Mel Gibb who always provide good information about resources and current discourse around e-learning. Mel Gibb is a member of MoodleMeet which how I found out about it.

It is only a few days since I joined so I have not done much except update my profile and add a badge which you can see at the top of the page. I signed up for the opportunity to learn from people who've used Moodle longer than it has been in the college.

I read recently that developing staff skills in using technology is a very important aspect of improving the students use of technology resources. Staff are in post for years and students naturally move from one situation to another. But staff skills are not always being developed to match with technological advances. This is one of the reasons why I have decided to take control of self-development in the hope that I may share any knowledge I gain not just with the community but more important, with colleagues who may not feel as motivated about elearning skill development. The video below is the first one I watched on MoodleMeet. It is a good introduction to what Moodle is and how it is used and who uses this open source learning platform.

This video is from YouTube as I had problems embedding the one from Moodle Tutorials. It was a good thing because it led me to discover an updated version of Moodle Presentation.

MoodleMeet is a social network created in Ning by Laurie Korte.
"Come join other Moodlers to network, share, work, collaborate, ask questions, get ideas, learn, make discoveries, etc." Initially I will be focusing on getting ideas, learning and making discoveries before I start asking questions that have already been answered. I will also post my experience in this blog as I moodle. If you are a Moodler join MoodleMeet and let's be moodlers together.

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Discovery Channel : The Human Body Explorer

The Discovery Channel website has a set of links called Features. This post is about one of the links in Features called Inside the Human Body

The main page offers a choice of four areas to explore.


The double screen offers a video on the right pertaining to the subject of sight. The left screen asks you to configure the human eye using the pieces provided. Simply drag and drop. Each element of the eye is annotated. A fun task that is also a learning tool.


Again a double screen with a relevant video on the right and an animation on the left. The animation illustrates the pressure in lbs that is exerted on the knee joint when doing one of three activities. It also allows you to type in any weight and see the immediate effect!


Once again a double screen. The left screen takes you through the processes of the human nervous system. The illustration is brilliant. See for yourself

Brain Power

This is a memory game where you have to match up the cards. Easy to understand. The images on the cards are all pertaining to the human body and not just the brain.

This was an interesting find. I think it could be useful not just in the classroom and not just for children either. The animations alone make this a site worth sharing. I hope you enjoy the discovery.

Friday, 20 February 2009

Charles Dickens for eLearning!

Type the name Charles Dickens into a search engine and you will be met with millions of results. One of the best sites and given the thumbs up on a Google search is David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page. It is a treasure trove of information not limited to the man and his work. Historical context is provided to show how the author was informed and inspired. The site includes contemporary maps and images of settings related to locations in Dickens work.

I found David Perdue's page a few years ago when Bleak House was the current dramatisation on BBC1 and thus inspired me to use the internet to find out more about the author. The wonder of the words of a Charles Dickens tale is a fond memory of an earlier age.

My stern and rather scary headmaster read 'A Christmas Carol' to the whole of the junior school over a number of weeks. I never looked forward to assembly so much and never were so many children so quiet for so long in an assembly hall as during those few weeks leading up to Christmas that year. That marked the beginning for me. Since then I've watched TV and film adaptations and read the actual novels too. When searching the net in between episodes of Bleak House on the BBC that winter I found sites that offered full texts of his work like Charles Dickens Online. David Perdue's page is however one I do return to every now and again when I want to read some interesting information surrounding various favourite characters.

Like Sairey Gamp in Martin Chuzzlewitt. This is said not to be one of his best by people who are said to know better but I enjoy the story and the various characters. For Mrs. Gamp there is a brief but informtive description and the option to see a picture as illustrated in the original publication. This follows for all of Dickens characters, though not all with image option.

I recently introduced this site to my manager as one of my favourite sites but possibly one we could consider as an elearning resource to direct students towards. It was a positive experience because he was immediately intrigued with what was offered. A link could be added to our Virtual Learning Environment for our own learners. It is regularly updated so it is a site you can visit again and again and not feel as if you've seen everything. I would recommend this site as a good resource for students of Dickens and for anyone who loves Charles Dickens and just wants to know more.

Has anyone got any better elearning sites for Charles Dickens? I would be very interested especially if you reckon your choice is better than David Perdue's Charles Dickens Page.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

A Tasty Sprout. Get it Free - while you can!

Today I found a sprout I like and I think you might like it too. Forgive me if you already know about this. I just discovered this today and it is one of my aims to share and post possible elearning tools on this blog (see my very first post). Sprout is not specifically aimed at elearning but it has possibilities as you will see and I include it for this reason.

Sprout is a builder of web content that is easy for teachers, students and anyone who wants to create a widget for their website. Content can also be put on a wide variety of social media and networking sites including Blogger, Facebook and MySpace. It's free and you need no coding experience. What more could an educator or anyone else want?

Watch this video to see and hear more: has more information including video presentations of what you can build.

'Build, Publish, Manage' is Sprout's 1,2,3 of how easy create rich web content. It is in what it creates that makes Sprout an attractive tool for anyone wishing to make stimulating and motivating content for visitors to their sites or for students or for any audience.
Sprout lets you create your own:
- widgets
- mini-sites
- banners
- mashups

Sprout's been around for about a year, gathered from browsing news and reviews. Current news is not pleasing though - it is that Sprout will soon start offering service on a fee basis only so one attraction for cash strapped educators will be lost. Maybe in the current climate Sprout will wait awhile before demanding fees. In the meantime you should get using Sprout while you can. I know I will.

A couple of hours later...
I made my first sprout choosing one of my hobbies as the focus. It was very easy to use. Images, backgrounds and templates are available but you can also upload your own images and store them as assets.

I published my sprout to my Facebook profile. Once published any changes are automatically updated so you only have to embed the code once. It can be shared and embedded on other sites. Now working on another with education as elearning as the focus. Have a go yourself!

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Help! I need to learn how to use the VLE!

When the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) was installed on your educational institution's network, did you receive a day or even two, of training including a workshop where it all seemed to make sense? Off you went with good intentions of making your teaching and learning materials available online. This is the future you thought. This is elearning.
Then you returned to your daily schedule and somehow you just never got back to the VLE until your manager makes it one of the tasks for the week that you make sure your resources are uploaded to the VLE.
You login to your learning platform and you get out and browse through your notes from the special training session (or two). You're trying to recall the actions that brought you success in the camaraderie of the training room. You may be fortunate and remember or find your notes actually help you to achieve your goal and you succeed with self satisfaction. What if you are not so lucky?

Uploading Office files is the usual starting point and though relatively simple demands assistance and support and a little bit of that camaraderie. Colleagues who are more advanced in their understanding and use of the learning platform installed in your institution and have admin rights to create courses are in a good position to provide support for their colleagues. Really good teachers are in need of support when facing the demands of elearning and their role in it. Elearning need not be a stumbling block if the technology fit help the struggling team members through the barrier.

Teaching staff can learn from each other and collaborate to gain a firmer grasp of the elearning tool they have at their disposal. I have used Digitalbrain in the past but I am currently working at a college that uses the open source application Moodle. Other platforms include Blackboard and WebCT but I have no experience of these as yet.

I found this presentation while looking for learning tools to teach myself Moodle. It gives a good overview of what is possible on this learning platform.

It is obviously our role to teach and support the learning of learners but it is also good practice to assist and sometimes teach colleagues how to achieve their goals in elearning.
Staff are sometimes worried about revealing that they do not know how to, for instance, successfully upload a file to the VLE especially to their managers who expect that having had the training they can do the task.
By the way the problem with uploading files is one I dealt with recently. It turned out to be a simple case of ensuring the files were uploaded from the network drive and not from a USB flash drive.

As I am myself learning through practice about creating courses and adding resources. I am developing my skills and knowledge by trial and experience. I have also searched the internet for online resources to teach myself how to use Moodle and get the best out of it and hopefully as a result provide very good elearning resources for our learners. You may find the following links useful for your own elearning and information about Moodle and VLEs in education.


Moodle: Teacher Documentation

Virtual Learning Environments

Moodle Guide for Beginners

Moodle Girl's Blog

Training the Web Worker Way - Moodle

VLE's Slow to Take Off

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Exploratree - for enquiring minds.

Exploratree is free web resource that provides a library of thinking guides, similar to mind maps. There are lots of ready made layouts available or you can create you own. The resource is useful for not just teachers and students but for anyone who wants to organise their thoughts or are doing some research. I think the possibilities are endless.

"Thinking guides support the thinking or working through of an issue, topic or question and help to shape, define and focus an idea and also support the plaaning required to investigate it further" from 'About Exploratree'.

As well as adding and formatting text regular, bold or italic, you can add images to you guide and change colours and shapes. Share your guide with others via email and they will be able to work on the guide adding collaboration and group work to its possible use. It can also be printed in any size from A4 to A0. They can be used as part of a presentation to illustrate thought processes and so on. Another option is to create your own from the blank template and upload it to share on the Exploratree website.

Looking for web resources that are useful to staff and learners is a part of my job and one that spills into my free time. Exploratree is a resource that I found to be immediately useful. I am currently using it to organise my thoughts on elearning.

Exploratree is currently in beta so Futurelab will welcome any suggestions and comments you have to make the next version better. The one down side I will mention is the introductory video did not work so I had to work out how to use it without any help. However it is quite simple to use if all you wish to do is edit a ready made guide.

Sunday, 4 January 2009

Web 2.0 from Slideshare

The SlideShare Presentation gives a clear overview of Web 2.0. There are many other presentations on this topic on Slideshare so this may not be the best but it very accessible. I found myself on Slideshare when I googled 'education and social media sites'. I wanted to embed the presentation in my post but it ended up in the wrong blog. I have posted my problem and await a response. In the meantime I have worked around the problem and you can find the presentation in the sidebar. Look for more posts on my experience of using Slideshare as part of my research in elearning and gathering materials if I decide to continue with this account.Slideshare allows users to upload presentations and share or not with the Slideshare community. It also enables sharing of presentations with your contacts who are not on Slideshare using email.